We hate email, but we can’t seem to do business without it. Despite employee email overload, it’s an easy way to distribute information to multiple colleagues, give brief status updates and schedule meetings.
Email in and of itself is not bad. We just get the wrong kinds of emails too often. Despite the rise of Slack, Teams and other platforms that promise to free us from email overload, most employees still get too much email each day and consider it a major frustration of their work life.
Some corporate cultures show a bias towards emailing things that could be better handled another way. When you consider your workplace, do you answer YES to any of the questions below?
- CYA: Do employees in your company typically copy multiple colleagues and managers on emails merely as a Cover Your A** technique?
- Bombing: Do certain departments or business units issue so many all-company emails that employees tend not to read any of them?
- Pushing noodles: Do people try to resolve complex issues with a long string of emails to multiple people? That can feel like trying to untangle a pile of wet spaghetti.
- Duck and cover: Do people address emotional or negative issues via email so they can hide from the fallout?
If you answered YES to any of the above, how do you improve that email habit? Making a lot of rules about how and when to email is probably not the answer. (For more on that, see this Harvard Business Review piece.) T
Those are actually trick questions that reveal a lot about the culture. When employees feel confident in their roles, free to make the occasional mistake, comfortable in their relationships with their managers and colleagues and are able to have uncomfortable conversations face-to-face, those email scenarios are less likely to be widespread issues.
In that ideal scenario above, email is handled more efficiently, because the culture is built that way. Instead of CYA emails, employees will include only the people who really need to know, sparing the inboxes of others. Instead of emailing on sensitive issues, they’ll pick up the phone or walk down the hall to have a conversation. When they need to debate a complex issue, they’ll call a meeting, share perspectives and make a decision. And rather than bombing employees’ inboxes with mass emails, they’ll explore more respectful ways to get that information across, like filtering email lists, creating a weekly digest of company-wide emails or directing employees to the intranet.
The social behavior of any culture is set by those at the top and learned over time by the rest of the company. That’s the executive leadership team’s job, and if you’re lucky enough to have leadership that’s created that sort of healthy culture, your workplace is probably not rife with employee email overload.
Otherwise, there are a few things you can do, primarily by helping everyone in the company use email more efficiently. If you’re interesting in how to give employees email tips or training, you might like this earlier blog. Writing better emails is mostly a matter of general courtesy and common sense, and employees might only need to be reminded of that.
If you’re interested in more on shaping your email culture or larger issues, Tribe can help.